Tips for avoiding other boats on the water

By Allstate

Last updated: January 1

Unlike roads, waterways have no painted lines or stoplights to help guide traffic. Since boats move in every direction on the water, it’s important to follow safe boating practices and know how to properly steer clear of other boats to minimize the risk of accidents. Here are some boating safety tips that may help you avoid accidents while out on the water.

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Take a boating safety class

First, it's important to learn and understand the different signals and maneuvers used while boating. A good place to start learning is by taking a boating safety course. In fact, some states require boat drivers to attend a boating course when operating certain types of boats, according to the National Safe Boating Council (NSBC). But, even if your state doesn't require one, it may be a good idea to take a boating class to learn plenty of safety tips and measures that can help you avoid potentially dangerous situations and accidents on the water. In addition to general tips, such as always keeping a lookout for other boats and traveling at a safe speed, a professional boat course can teach you other "rules of the road," says the NSBC. This may include a thorough overview of measures you should take when approaching or passing another boat.

Use safe passing techniques

Boaters should be aware of navigation rules on the water so they know how to properly and safely maneuver around other boats. Below are a few common scenarios and how to safely handle them, according to the NSBC:

  • Being passed by another boat: When a boat is overtaking or passing another boat, the boat being passed must maintain its speed and course to allow the other boat to safely pass on either side.
  • Approaching a boat head-on: When meeting head-on, both boats should keep to the right to safely pass each other.
  • Crossing paths with another boat: When crossing paths, the boat on the right has the right of way. The other boat must slow down or change its course to pass safely behind it.

Signal with your horn

Using horn signals is a way to notify other boaters of what you're doing as you approach them (or vice versa), says the BoatUS Foundation. Here are some of the most common signals and what they mean:

  • One short blast: When crossing paths near another boater, this signal means you plan to pass their boat, leaving them on your port (left) side. If you are behind another boat, and about to pass it, one quick horn blast signifies that you will pass it on their starboard (right) side.
  • Two short blasts: This horn alert is the opposite of one short blast. It means if you're crossing paths near another boater, you will leave them on your right side. Or, if you are behind another boater, it means that you'll pass them on their left side.
  • Three short blasts: Use this horn signal to let other boaters know that you're backing up.
  • Five or more short blasts: A series of five short blasts is a danger signal. The BoatUS Foundation states that when another boat responds with the same signal, it means both boaters understand the intended maneuver. So, if you feel that another boat's horn signal is unclear or unsafe, use this signal to alert them of your uncertainty.
  • One prolonged blast: This alerts other boaters that you're leaving a dock. Some boaters also use it when they're headed around a curve and cannot easily see other boats coming.

Avoid high speeds at night

Maintaining a safe speed at all times is important, but at night, you should use extra caution as it may not be immediately obvious if the water ahead of you is clear of other boats or objects, says Boating Magazine. It's possible that other boats have broken down, and their lights aren't working (making them practically invisible at night), so proceed with caution. Boating Magazine also notes that boaters should carry flares in case they break down at night. This will help other boaters become aware of your location.

Boating is a fun activity you can enjoy with family and friends, but remember to be cautious and pay close attention to your surroundings at all times. Doing so may help you minimize the risk of boating accidents while enjoying your time on the water.